Islamic and Liberal Egyptians Present United Front Against Military

by Charley Locke:

As elections take place across North Africa, citizens have voiced their beliefs about the role of Islam in their future government. Yet in Egypt, perhaps the most influential country in the region, voters have been encountering opposition from more than just dissident political parties as the military seeks to preserve control and privileges in the new government before parliamentary elections. The result: increasingly violent riots throughout Egypt beginning last Friday.

In Cairo, the protests continue. (Zeinab Mohamed/Flickr Creative Commons)

In Egypt, the military has traditionally played a strong role in government. According to Amr Shalakany, an associate professor of law at Cairo University, the military controls a sizable portion of the economy; estimates range from 15 to 45 percent. Alongside its economic power, the military has enjoyed complete autonomy and been shielded from public scrutiny; currently, the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces does not disclose a budgetary breakdown, only a blanket number. The military’s refusal to fire on fellow Egyptians was pivotal during last year’s revolution, eventually forcing President Mubarak out of office and leading many to hope for the end of the military’s role in repressing citizen dissent.

Yet the military’s new constitutional proposal has prompted outrage from political parties across the spectrum. The proposal strengthens the military’s role as an interim government and endows the armed forces with permanent privileges, including shielding from parliamentary oversight. A current policy protecting the military budget from public scrutiny and government regulation, and the creation of a security council that would supercede Egypt’s future elected government and give the military the right to intervene at any point to preserve constitutional legitimacy, are also elements of the proposal.

Last Friday, ultraconservative and more liberal political parties united in a massive protest against the proposed measures in Tahrir Square, the birthplace of Egypt’s January 25th movement last year. Many individuals, such as Soha Abdelaty, deputy director of the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights, felt that the military’s proposal merely serves as “a continuation of what we’ve seen of the military placing itself above the law.” Indeed, to many, the protective measures seem to reiterate the repressive powers of Mubarak’s regime. According to Amr Darrag, head of the Giza branch of the Freedom and Justice party, the political arm of the now moderate (although formerly outlawed) Muslim Brotherhood, the military is “aiming for” the control Mubarak enjoyed, seeking “to have the sole authority” in Egyptian government.

Yet some, such as the Egyptian historian Mahmoud Sabit, recognize the protective intentions of the military. Revolution brings sweeping change and uncertainty; the military seeks to temper the mistakes of fresh-faced idealism with experience. Sabit voiced concern over “entities or personalities who don’t have the political maturity to run a modern state,” and it seems that the military agrees. This constitutional proposal would certainly allow the military to play a significant role in shaping Egypt’s new government, as it includes measures which give the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces final say over the drafting of Egypt’s new constitution.

Indeed, while the recent outrage over the military’s role has banded political parties together in protest, Egypt’s parliamentary elections — which are scheduled to begin November 28th — will be full of dissenting opinions, as those with ultraconservative Islamic beliefs, such as the Salafi political party, push against more liberal parties to extend Islamic beliefs in government policy. While some like Darrag believe that Egypt will still be politically moderate if an Islamic majority is elected, others express concern that Egypt’s Islamic political parties lack the cohesion and unity of Tunisia’s al-Nahda party, which took a clear plurality of seats in the elections on October 24th.

Yet regardless of differing beliefs on the role of Islam in government, Egyptians seem united against allowing the military to hold onto complete political power. While the current protests in Tahrir Square are reminiscent of last spring’s revolution, the military no longer stands unwilling to fire on protesters, prompting uncertainty over whether the Egyptian revolution will lead to control by the military — or by democratically elected parties.

Charley Locke ’14 is in Calhoun College. She is the Globalist Notebook Beat Blogger covering issues relating to North Africa. Contact her at